Discovery of ice deposits on Mars could sustain human outposts

By the 2030s NASA hopes to send human explorers to Mars the surface of which is seen in a May 2017 handout

These ice deposits could start just 1 to 2 meters beneath the surface but extend more than 100 meters (or more than 328 feet) deep. Because the ice is only visible where surface soil has been removed, Dundas et al. say it is likely that ice near the surface is even more extensive than detected in this study.

That said, it may not be all that easy to access the ice found in the new study.

The sites are in both northern and southern hemispheres of Mars, at latitudes from about 55 to 58 degrees, equivalent on Earth to Scotland or the tip of South America.

Scientists have long theorised that reserves of water ice are locked underground on Mars.

"This ice is a critical target for science and exploration: it affects modern geomorphology, is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet's habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration", the study says.

"One of the most interesting observations was seeing boulders fall out at one scarp, which suggested that it's actively sublimating or retreating, and also helped confirm that it was exposed ice and not surface frost", Dundas said.

The researchers used images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has studied the Martian atmosphere and terrain since 2006, including the history of apparent water, flows on or near the surface.

"Humans need water wherever they go, and it's very heavy to carry with you".

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'You don't see a high-tech solution, ' Byrne added.

"Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need."
I think it's sort of a game-changer.

'It's like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what's usually hidden beneath the ground, ' said Byrne.

"The scarps are sharply defined and almost straight, up to (about 3.7 miles) long, and face slightly east of poleward", the scientists wrote.

Case in point: we've just found huge supplies of frozen water buried just below the planet's surface. Those cliffs formed through a process called sublimation, in which exposed ice turned directly into water vapor.

Here's how it works on Mars: When the planet is farther from the sun in its orbit, and it snows, that snow remains on the surface and becomes a buildup of ice.

US Geological Survey geologist Colin Dundas noticed a pale band of blue sticking out from the sea of rusty hues in high-resolution photos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) a few years ago. And we need water ice on Mars because we can combine it with the Carbon dioxide that's very abundant in the atmosphere, and that gives us two very important things for future manned habitability of Mars.

'If you had a mission at one of these sites, sampling the layers going down the scarp, you could get a detailed climate history of Mars, ' suggested MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. When does ice accumulate?

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